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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Descriptive metaphysics as a departure port

The connections between metaphysics and grammar have been considered in different ways since Nietzsche. One could always believe that the descriptive metaphysics that is entailed by grammar and language rules can be put aside in a more revisionary, well-informed or speculative endeavor. But metaphysics has no other public language than ordinary grammar and its extensions, the suburbia built in it by added metaphysical propositions, like in Wittgenstein's image of an ancient city:
Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses. (PU, 18)
New additions are not necessarily filled with regular streets or uniform houses, but they are additions to what they found already in town. The ancient town has architectural requirements over the new parts of town. It works as a parameter on which any added borough is gauged. Michel Haar’s diagnosis that music would be the medium for a Nietzschean metaphysics notwithstanding, metaphysics is tied to its grammatical umbilical chord. It can only break free to the measure that it can pervert the descriptive core that measures its development.

So, substances (needed for grammatical predication, see Kant's prolegomena, note 24), numbers and quantities (grammar still makes distinctions between 1, 2 and many), events being either with or without subjects (see Deleuze's insistence on indefinite articles) are primarily thought in terms of their grammar. What is needed then for ant metaphysically new intuition is to be translated into the public, shared language of descriptive metaphysics (or to make do outside the scope of grammar). This translation is very often a negotiation where some of the novelty in the intuition can be lost. It seems to me that this is one of the reasons why translation is a crucial element in any metaphysical endeavor. Having said that, a translation can make its port of departure – grammar of a public language – uncomfortable, weirder and makes it deal with the unfamiliar. It can betray descriptive metaphysics. In that sense, it is always indeed revisionary, and Strawson's dualism descriptive-revisionary seems indeed appropriate. Grammar is not something that metaphysics can simply bypass.

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